Pop: Dangerously close to a good gig

Royal Trux Highbury Garage, London

Royal Trux

Highbury Garage, London

The touts seem to think the band are called "King Trucks" for some reason; the weather is extremely balmy - and there's a dead ringer for The Dude from The Big Lebowski hanging around the bar. It's a strange kind of night, as a packed crowd seems in severe danger of being entertained by , a band whose ten year career has rarely seen them raise such expectations. Once better known for their reputedly prodigious drug intake than their frequently unlistenable records - no matter how much they dressed it up in talk of "harmolodic theory" it still sounded random to the best trained ears - former Pussy Galore guitarist Neil Hagerty and partner Jennifer Herrema are on something of a roll at the moment. A recent dalliance with corporate money has left them with a studio in their rural West Virginia base, and the master tapes of their finest record to date, Accelerator - probably the best seventies album released this decade. Hagerty has even written a novel, a monkey allegory - more Planet of the Apes than Will Self.

Despite worrying rumours that Hagerty and Herrema, the most studiedly out-of-it couple in rock since Keef and Anita, are "looking well", such tittle-tattle proves unfounded as the Trux lurch into "Banana Question" from Accelerator. Herrema, grunting into the mike from under a huge cowboy hat, has forsaken her usual trick of wearing her hair under the lenses of her shades, which makes her strangely reminiscent of something from Michael Bentine's Potty Time, but reassuringly it still proves impossible to work out which way she's facing. Hagerty leads the band (which consists of David Pajo of Aerial M on undemanding bass, a stressed looking drummer, and Chicago scene all-rounder Rian Murphy on backing vocals and, um, tambourine) with astounding vigour, and it sounds great, joyously insincere like the Velvets kicking off with "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together". Clearly all those years listening to crappy FM rock stations weren't wasted after all. Hell, as they crash through the magnificently inane "Juicy Juicy Juice" and the wake up call of "I'm Ready", Hagerty even manages a few artful Ted Nugent flourishes on his Gibson, though you doubt whether he can hit a deer at two miles with crossbow.

Sadly they can't keep it up. The Trux meander through some of their back catalogue, and Hagerty noodles away like Bernard Butler after finding Brett Anderson's secret stash. The catchy "RayOVac" teeters on the edge of collapse, and though "You're Gonna Lose" pounds hard, by the end of the tepid blues finale it feels like day nine at Woodstock, with the short term forecast unpromising. Encore "Yellow Kid" saves the day, its blatant Dylanisms, enhanced by their tuneless croaking and Herrema's outstandingly feeble handclaps. Regrettably we don't get a version of the wonderful Segal tribute "Stevie", but if they could only keep this standard up for a whole set they might one day become the rock stars they've always portrayed so well. After all, they've never sounded better.

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